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The last time the New Orleans Pelicans won a playoff game, they were playing under a different monicker and Anthony Davis was a senior in high school.
That was then, this is now.
Anthony Davis posted 35 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots and guards Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo outplayed their more-publicized backcourt opponents to lead the Pelicans to a 97-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of their first-round series Saturday night at Moda Center.
He has now scored 25+ PTS in each of his 5 career Playoff games. pic.twitter.com/Qy1fAEuGf3
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2018
Holiday scored 21 points, adding a crucial blocked shot in the closing seconds, and Rondo added 17 assists and eight rebounds to his six points as they got the best of Portland’s All-Star tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Lillard finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while McCollum had 19 points.
“It’s the playoffs,” Holiday said, speaking of his final block. “A lot of excitement and a lot of energy especially in the building. Obviously, that was a really big stop and at that moment it felt good to get a stop. It felt good to know that all the hard work we put in this game, we got the win, so we did a really good job at that.”
The Pelicans, who are playing without All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins (torn Achilles’ tendon), almost blew a 19-point lead, but were able to hold off the Blazers in the final minutes.
A McCollum 3-pointer with just less than a minute to play brought Portland to within one at 93-92. Lilliard missed a jumper in the lane with 15 seconds left with the Blazers still down one. Davis then made a pair of free throws to increase the deficit to three, then Holiday blocked a layup attempt by Pat Connaughton with 6.3 seconds to play to seal the deal.
Clutch play Jrue Holiday to win Game 1 for the Pelicans pic.twitter.com/D5ig2rmPgQ
— FootBasket.com (@FootBasketcom) April 15, 2018
Davis, who was on the winning side of a playoff game for the first time in his career, credited Rondo for knowing what Portland was going to do in the closing seconds.
Portland coach Terry Stotts and several Portland players said the play on which Holiday denied Connaughton at the rim was designed to produce a potential game-tying 3-pointer, but the Pelicans took those options away.
“He’s in a different mindset,” Davis said of Rondo. “He was up all night watching film. When they were calling plays out there he was telling us what it was in our version before they had a chance to run it.
“He’s definitely locked in. The way he played tonight with 17 assists, he’s just in a different mode for the playoffs.”
The sixth-seeded Pelicans were the only road team of the four that played Saturday to earn a victory. Nikola Mirotic supported Davis, Holiday and Rondo with 16 points, 11 boards and four blocked shots.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) April 15, 2018
It was the first playoff game for New Orleans since the 2014-15 season, when it tangled with eventual champion Golden State in the first round. The Pelicans led by 20 points at halftime only to see the lead evaporate and lose the game in overtime en route to being swept by the eventual champions.
Portland, which trailed by 19 at 69-50 after a dunk by Holiday at the 4:25 mark in the third quarter, almost battled all the way back, only to come up just short. For the Pelicans, history did not repeat itself.
Remember the last time the pelicans were in the playoffs? Good times pic.twitter.com/1jxNiPsIIS
— Nai (@Nai_Roy) April 15, 2018
McCollum vowed to be more aggressive in terms of taking the basketball at Davis as opposed to trying to avoid him at the rim. He and Lillard combined to attempt on three free throws combined.
“Getting to the basket, he’s around,” McCollum said. “You know, he blocked my shot in the first quarter, maybe made some contact. But he’s always there, he’s always around roaming. But there’s no excuses. We got to play better.”
Portland’s two stars finished with just three combined free-throw attempts. McCollum says it’s on them to force the issue.
“Maybe we need to be more aggressive getting downhill,” McCollum said. “You’ve got to figure out how the referees are reffing the game and go from there.”
Game 2 will be played Tuesday night in Portland.